SpeakOut is Truthout's treasure chest for bloggy, quirky, personally reflective, or especially activism-focused pieces. SpeakOut articles represent the perspectives of their authors, and not those of Truthout.
The above is the title of an essay that I wrote in 2000 that appeared as a chapter in my book Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower. Here are some excerpts that may help to put the current revelations surrounding Edward Snowden into perspective ...
Can people in the 21st century imagine a greater invasion of privacy on all of earth, in all of history? If so, they merely have to wait for technology to catch up with their imagination.
Like a mammoth vacuum cleaner in the sky, the National Security Agency (NSA) sucks it all up: home phone, office phone, cellular phone, email, fax, telex ... satellite transmissions, fiber-optic communications traffic, microwave links ... voice, text, images ... captured by satellites continuously orbiting the earth, then processed by high-powered computers ... if it runs on electromagnetic energy, NSA is there, with high high tech. Twenty-four hours a day. Perhaps billions of messages sucked up each day. No one escapes.
The costs of education and student loan debt are used as weapons to enforce a neo-feudal caste system that sentences us to a lifetime of wage slavery. With the already excessive interest rate on this debt set to double on July 1st, one wonders if this will become a tipping point and rallying call for another wave of protest from the all too dormant US wing of the decentralized global Occupy movement. To throw a little fuel on the fire, as we prepare to get back on the frontlines ourselves, here is a stream of consciousness riff inspired by Allen Ginsberg's epic Howl poem...
The Beaten Masses & Mass Disaster
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by debt
Struggling to get by, dying to make ends meet
Shopping for an angry fix
Wage slaves burnin' for the illusion,
a fleeting connection to the celebrity driven machinery of slow death
As a committed feminist and social justice activist, I am constantly in touch, in communication, online, on alert, engaged. There is rarely a moment where I am away from my computer or iPhone for longer than 30 minutes - what if something is happening right now that needs my attention? - and my social media accounts serve not only as a lifeline to other activists, but as a central part of my own activism. To say that constant connection gets exhausting is an epic understatement.
If you are involved in social justice activism in any way, you likely know of "activist burnout," the feeling of sheer mental (and often physical) exhaustion that catches up with you after spouts of perpetual tuned-in-ness. But for activists like me, this burnout is magnified by an ever present undercurrent of chemical forces beyond our control: my burnout is coupled with my depression and anxiety.
Week one of the trial of George Zimmerman was a trying and often painful week to watch. From the visible pain of Sabrina & Tracy, Trayvon's parents, to watching people all over social media mocking and insulting Rachel Jeantel, the 19yr old young lady who was the last to speak to Trayvon.
The most painful for me was the showing of pictures of Trayvon's dead body during the trial, which news stations also aired to the public. I didn't think these images were necessary to the world. I personally did not look at the pictures and had made a decision not to look at them. I heard some people were posting the pictures on social media. I made a promise not only not to post them but to delete anyone who did.
For me, and most of us, last week was a dizzying one. It found the Supreme Court of the United States doing away with the Defense of Marriage Act, upholding the right to same-sex marriage in California, gutting a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and leaving affirmative action intact, even while cautioning the courts and universities that strict scrutiny would be applied to all cases on that subject - affirmative action would have to constantly justify its existence. That week also found Nelson Mandela, 94 years-old, on his deathbed. Finally, it was also the week that we had Albie Sachs as a visitor to our summer intensive series on Human Rights. His visit was a particularly auspicious one.
Albert Sachs's career in human rights activism started when he was 17 years-old, continued through college and into his law practice in Cape Town. In defending people charged under the state's racist statutes, he attracted the displeasure of the authorities and was initially subjected to "banning laws" restricting his activities, then arrested, and finally put into solitary confinement. Upon release from prison, he went into voluntary exile, but never discontinued his human rights work.
I was a really shy kid. In middle school, I tried to get through class without saying anything. But by high school it got so bad that at a parent-teacher conference my English teacher told my mom,"I know the wheels are turning and that she is paying attention, but she never says anything."
"Just call on her," my mom replied. "Even if she isn't raising her hand."
After that, Ms. Jira would call on me whenever our eyes met. Heart banging, palms sweating, I was able to contribute. It wasn't pretty, but it worked. With my mom's encouragement, I told all my teachers to call on me, even if my hand wasn't raised, and I made it through high school.
Tony Rotondo has taught English in West Chester, Pennsylvania since 1964 at every level ranging from 7th grade to Graduate School. He served as President of the Teachers Association for the West Chester Area School District and left a legacy of worker solidarity while constantly fighting for fair pay, resources and proper treatment of teachers and students. Tony is a decorated master teacher and for years excelled with a disarming sense of humor. In a historic West Chester Schools strike of 2003, Rotondo bravely articulated that "the contract year has been a shift from reason and compromise to intimidation and ultimatum." The news media called his tone, "defiant." Rotondo would happily agree. Rotondo is currently a teacher preparation professor at Cabrini College in Radnor, Pennsylvania.
Edward Snowden's leaks of top-secret NSA documents has unleashed a wave of very strong feelings of anger and betrayal – of the Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable and unwarranted searches and seizures as well as of President Obama's promise of more transparency. The stories in the Guardian and the Washington Post have played on the fears of those who understand that our democracy cannot function properly in a climate of excessive secrecy, with overzealous prosecution of leakers, journalists, and others who are fighting to keep information accessible adding to their concerns. Throw in an utterly dysfunctional Congress, a lingeringly unsteady economy and an increasingly acrimonious political atmosphere, and we have nothing short of a serious crisis of confidence on our hands.